If Nothing Else, DISD's New HR Director Has a Fascinating Story

Kim Olson's the new DISD human resources boss, which may be the least interesting job on her résumé -- by far.

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The DISD board met last night in the Emmett J. Conrad High School auditorium, and our pal Allen Gwinn live-blogged the shindig -- because, look, that's how he rolls. Regardless, this morning we read over his account, and at the 9 p.m. mark we noticed an interesting item arose on the agenda: the approval of a retired Air Force colonel's salary, about a month or so after she was tagged to head the district's human resources department.

Gwinn reports that the school board agreed, by a vote of 8-1, to pay Kim Olson an annual salary of $177,000. But there seem to be two small issues with Olson. One, she doesn't even live in the district -- more like Weatherford. Course, she has six months to make the move, and if she doesn't, well, it's not like no one will notice. So on to the second issue -- the one that landed Kim Olson in the Los Angeles Times last year and got her a book. And keep in mind this is a woman former FBI director Bill Sessions once called "a modern-day Joan of Arc."

This is certainly more intriguing than the question of residency: According to the Los Angeles Times in story published April 19, 2006, during her tenure in Iraq shortly after the invasion four years ago, Olson was accused of "audacious impropriety in the corruption-plagued reconstruction of Iraq [by] profiting from the post-invasion chaos by using her position to benefit a private security firm that she helped operate." The story's no longer online, but it's heavily referred to and quoted from right here.

Says the Times story, which I read this morning on Lexis-Nexis, Olson was one of the first female pilots in the Air Force and the right-hand woman of Jay Garner, the retired Army general tapped to rebuild and assist Iraq following the 2003 invasion. Garner didn't agree with the White House over reconstruction plans and was rather quickly replaced by Paul Bremer, who Olson would later refer to as "an arrogant jerk." Garner always supported Olson, says the paper, even after the allegations turned into an investigation:

To her defenders, including Garner and other prominent people, Olson's troubles are evidence that Washington regulators are imposing unreasonable standards of conduct for a war zone. Friends described Olson as a problem solver who moved from crisis to crisis and who was punished for her effort to get things done in a chaotic environment.

Olson's legal file is packed with endorsements and letters of recommendations from Garner and his successor as U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, as well as from top military and civilian officials in Iraq and Washington. Some worry the action against her is an overzealous prosecution that might impinge on reconstruction efforts.

Government officials "are going over there with the best of intentions, and they're coming back and being grilled," said Bob Polk, who was the director of plans for Garner. "It will have a chilling effect the next time."

But government investigators say Olson took advantage of her position for personal gain and made a mockery of U.S. efforts to establish the rule of law in a country long ruled by corrupt autocrats. Olson is the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to be accused of wrongdoing in connection with the reconstruction.

Olson did not respond to requests for an interview, but she supplied by e-mail a point-by-point response to the charges against her. The e-mail said the military's version of events contained "numerous factual statements and conclusions that are not accurate."

She also spent more than a year fighting the charges, and denied during a military hearing in 2005 that she had used her job in Iraq to slide a little extra dough into her and her pals' pockets. Nonetheless, reported the paper, Olson did plead guilty to lesser charges, and "she was reprimanded and allowed to resign from the Air Force with an honorable discharge and no reduction in rank. Olson was also banned from receiving further government contracts for three years. She is appealing the ban." I could find no further information in the paper or on the Web about whether or not she was successful.

Regardless, last month DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa told The Dallas Morning News' Kent Fischer he was "satisfied that there are no integrity issues" with Olson. And last September, the US Naval Institute Press published Olson's account of her stint overseas: Iraq And Back: Inside the War to Win the Peace

Gwinn notes that last night, only Carla Ranger voted against Olson's contract -- because she lives in Weatherford. --Robert Wilonsky

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